Easter in a dusty town
How can Elvis freakin Presley fake his own death, disappear into America, and assume an identity and life style in which no one recognizes him. There may be a short answer but sure no simple one.
Maybe he just didn’t want to exist any longer. Who I ask you, who has not thought how nice it might be to not be. Yeah. Was not easy for Elvis and really quite difficult. How did he do it? With help. With the consent, orchestration, and devotion of those around him who truly loved him, he left this, his mortal coil.
Since no one thought donut delivery at any hour unusual at Graceland, a truck showed up one night driven by an inner circle guy, but left with Elvis driving in a cream white crispy uniform. Once safely outside of Memphis, the back doors of the truck opened and out roared the Pelvis in triumph and on a Triumph. The truck was disappeared. No one knew nor wished to know where he went. Gone in the night. The paperwork in matters like these was not difficult. The nation mourned. That was all. Elvis had left the building.
When he wheelied outta Tennessee headed west, he had in his bag: 2 pairs of jeans, 2 flannel shirts, a canteen, some chocolate bars, and cash. And a tooth brush. And sunglasses. That was all.
At the time of his...death, the pagan ritual of Elvis impersonation had begun, and indeed would become more common in the years that followed. All kinds of Elvii; black, white, female, midget, Inuit, Hasidic...whatever.
A few days out, he had a beard coming up, and all the hair care and skincare products started washing out from exposure to sun and bathing with a hose in back of a gas station. There was a dirt-colored dog chained to a fence in Utah he feared had recognized him. He put down his visor and skedaddled.
Days turned into moons. He bought a little camping gear and spent this time in the desert ahhhh, wilderness, simply. He tended not to ride at night, instead camping away from the road and trying to empty his mind and his bloodstream. As he approached this objective, he retrieved the years before he started climbing Mt Saint Elvis. Childhood, his childhood became more accessible, more a part of him, and with continued cleansing he found himself becoming again what he so so wanted to be, what many of us dearly wish to be, 11.
He took the name Jesse from his brother, the one that didn’t make it. Seemed fair enough, to give his life to that life unlived. He found Ardensville late one afternoon. A truck loaded with melons went by in the other direction. Written on the side was a sign ”seeking drivers.” He turned and followed the truck until he had enough info to find the depot and apply for the position. Jesse was 50.
The job was trucking all sorts of stuff around the expansive and underpopulated county. Sometimes crop, sometimes furniture, or just moving folks about, house to house. After a while his employer retired and left Jesse 2 trucks. He transitioned easily and lived easily, working for cash and paying his bills. All that remained were the shades. That was all.
On this particular Tuesday, Jesse was delivering seat cushions. Seat cushions for the Lord. Though he had not hymned or prayed since his redemption, he did not need to read the address of Morrow’s church twice. He would have a sensible lunch at Babby’s and unload the cushions.
Now Celia’s coming out party was 2 weeks in the past. The normally sleepy town was under invasion and the table he expected to occupy in the café was not available. It and the café was abuzz with strange city types. Jesse recognized their utility belts as if a blue welt suddenly appeared in his armpit. He sat at the counter and spoke with Babby in whispers. Sotto voce. When he left, he left a $3 tip for a $6 meal, and Babby said amen to a universe where Elvis ate in her café everyday in the heart of nowhere, had ketchup on a salad, and left a $3 tip.
When he entered the church with the first 4 of 30 large but light boxes of cushions, he encountered a fairly churchy sort of woman tinkering with the famously outta tune piano. He recognized the tools and ribbons of felt that were a part of piano tuning.
“Ma’am,” he politely announced his presence. Gwendolyn backed out from under the piano, banged her head though not sufficiently to displace her wig, and rose to greet Jesse.
“I have your cushions Ma’am and if you would just sign off here,” handing Gwendolyn a receipt, “I will get them in here and would not mind a bit helpin’ to get these pews fitted and taking out the boxes for ya. How’s that sound?”
Harold knew who was addressing him, and for an instant, all was unreal and Celia’s song of the town of impossible fiction and truth became quite real.
“You must be Jesse. Celia said I would meet you soon enough. How’s it going fer ya?” For a time, Gwendolyn did not release the hand she shook now. Jesse was unaccustomed to the adorations of 15 years ago and did not much care for it now.
“Well Ma’am, seeins how on a hot day like this I’d rather be unloading cushions than watermelons, I’d say it was going pretty good! How bout yourself?”
“I’m fine, just fine. I don’t mind tellin you getting this instrument up to pitch and tuned was a chore, yes sir, but I think she’s there. Here.” Gwendolyn turned and displayed one of those big churchy harmony examples, and yes that piano was tuned and beggin for playing.
“That is a fine fine piece of work you have done there Ma’am, but I think you might go back and take a look at that D flat two octaves above middle C. One of its strings might have just slipped a tetch. A tetch now. But for that, perfect. Morrow ain’t payin ya enough.”
Harold was now honkin that D flat and applying his tuning wrench.
“How the hell did I miss that?”
Jesse proceeded bringing in the boxes, and he and Harold began fixing the cushions to the pews that Harold felt sure would some Sunday soon be full.
As they worked, they discussed life in disguise. Not much for talking in any circumstance, Jesse had never, I mean never, broached this conversation with anybody, and like so many others, Jesse found safe harbor in Harold. Harold’s light. Harold’s humanity.
When all was complete and the empty boxes and wrappings to discard were removed to the truck, Jesse came back to get his jacket and call it a day. Harold was at the piano (with a now righteous D flat) playing some hymn or other.
“You know, I think the pew cushions have softened up the acoustics a bit. The high end isn’t bouncing all over creation,” Harold returned to the hymn. With room on the piano bench, Jesse sat down on the treble side and listened intently with his head down and eyes closed. Then his head came up, his eyes opened and there were tears. Harold was not aware until Jesse’s calloused hand landed on the keyboard and delivered the most informed and meaningful chord imaginable. Must have come from the center of the Earth.
Harold stopped. The church became filled with a glorious light. The pews were filled with angels. The air was cool and carried the scent of sunflowers and orchards.
Jesse began to play a familiar intro. Harold chimed in the bass.
“When you’re we-ear-ry,
When tears are in your eyes,
I will dry them all......